Some years ago I attended a conference on Intelligent Design (I.D.). The organizers invited speakers who championed I. D. theory and others who opposed it. The highlight of the conference was a debate between an internationally-known proponent of I.D. and an internationally-known Darwinian theorist.
The debate was interesting on many levels. I noticed that the Darwinian routinely characterized his I. D. opponent as a “creationist,” a designation that the other, who also accepted the instrumentality of natural selection in the development of the species, rejected.
But most interesting to me was the religious language and fervor demonstrated by the Darwinist. He personified the evolutionary process and talked of it as if it were self-aware. It was beautiful, brilliant, powerful. When confronted with a specific challenge to traditional evolutionary theory, the speaker exhibited remarkable faith: “We don’t understand it yet, but we know that Darwinism will eventually reveal how it works.”
As I sat listening, it struck me that Darwinian evolution was this man’s deity. He was awed by its beauty. He trusted its power. He sacrificed his life to its gospel. If the debate had been transcribed and his references to Darwinism, natural selection and evolutionary theory been replaced with words like “God,” “the deity” and “the Almighty,” later readers would certainly have taken it for an evangelical broadside.
I am reminded of Voltaire’s sardonic comment: “If God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him.” And even with a God, humans still find it necessary to invent their own. And it’s not just evolutionary biologists who feel the need.
So we invent our own gods. There is the Therapeutic deity, the one who is there when you need him but politely stays out of the way the rest of the time. He comforts but never confronts, provides but never rebukes.
There is the Success god. This is an old one, who has gone by various names: Baal, Ashtoreth, Demeter and many others. In his present-day manifestation, this god has temples in New York, London, Paris and Tokyo, where sacrifices are made in common and preferred stock, futures, options and bonds. There is also a sacred version of this god, whose acceptable sacrifices include cash, credit or checks. You can find his priests on TV and in your local bookstore.
Some of the gods humans have invented are distasteful. There is the “Eye for Eye” (or Bad Karma) god, whose chief attribute is his remarkable memory. He never forgets. There is the Paymaster god, whose pay-as-you-go gospel promises a heaven, but only for the hard-working. There’s the “Bad Cop” god, who is just looking for a reason to pull you over and run you in.
There are some pretty sad gods too, like the insecure, attention-seeker-god, who really could use a few sessions on the Therapeutic Deity’s couch. Or the apathetic god, a regular in ancient times who still shows up today. He may have been concerned about us at one time, but somewhere along the way he just lost interest.
It has been said that the Hindu religion has 33 million gods, but Hindus have nothing on us. If a god is a power to whom one entrusts his security and to whom one makes sacrifices, we have plenty of our own.
The real problem with inventing gods (or giving homage to someone else’s pre-manufactured deity) is that it prevents you from acknowledging the real God and bringing your life into alignment with his ways, which is to say, with reality. The Ten Commandments begin with “Thou shalt have no other gods before me” for good reason. It’s not possible to simultaneously serve the god you’ve made and the God who made you, and manage to do right by either.
First published in The Coldwater Daily Reporter, May 24, 2014